Category: Sunshine Week

Panel Discussion on Right to Know Issues

RTKNH took part in a panel discussion last week to help celebrate Sunshine Week.

A summary of the event held Monday 3/12/18 at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in Manchester is here.  Video of the event is here.

A current status of Right-to-Know Bills before the Legislature can be found here.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Exempting Ballots From RSA-91A Means Jaffrey Resident Must Go to Federal Court to Review November 2016 Ballots

sunshine week logo horiz-300x176

THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 11 – 17), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.  

By Deborah Sumner

“[E]very voter’s vote is entitled to be counted once. It must be correctly counted and reported.” Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 380 (U.S. 1963)

NH Law requires that our votes are counted in public (RSA 659:63) so there are many eyes to catch and correct mistakes. But, with 87.5% of all NH ballots now potentially “counted” by AccuVote computer, we can’t know if election officials are fulfilling their constitutional duties to us UNLESS we can publicly verify the results are true.  Known risk factors include changing votes, counting them as fractions and losing them. (Technology for Diebold optical scan is same as touchscreen).

https://citp.princeton.edu/research/voting/

After two failed attempts to repeal the ballot exemption from RSA 91-A (passed in 2003) and two pro se litigant attempts in NH courts to access my town’s ballots to make sure our votes are counted as voters intend them, I am considering going to federal court. Since I dislike the court option so much, why would I even consider it?

If everything was fine with our elections, as the “official” government story claims, I could file a public records request, review a sampling of ballots and confirm it (as citizens in a number of other states can do). As a former reporter, I know there is often a different story that contradicts the first and requires public action to fix. This is one of them.

My Story Begins

Before the November 2010 election, Jaffrey citizens asked our moderator to do a hand count check of one of two federal races, chosen at random after polls closed.

Both were open seats and fit the definition of a high stakes, competitive race most vulnerable to tampering.  A 2009 state advisory report advised random computer checks and some moderators had been doing them.

The Jaffrey moderator said yes and confirmed with the Attorney General he could; the Deputy Secretary of State convinced him to change his mind.

NH Const. Part I, art. 8  IMMEDIATELY came to mind. “Of course we should know if the vote count is accurate for our town. Both the NH Constitution and election laws REQUIRE it!” I sputtered.

Louder alarm bells sounded when I went to court and found the Town Clerk had reportedly destroyed the November 2010 ballots, in violation of federal law and before a Cheshire Superior Court judge could decide if I could review them.

At that point, my hair was on fire. Yet the court, state and local officials didn’t see ANY problem. Case dismissed. There was no state or local investigation to confirm when ballots were destroyed or if anyone had advised the clerk to destroy them. I documented probable election fraud. Jaffrey Chronology

Even though law required local officials to ensure accurate vote counts, local officials claimed they couldn’t check computer accuracy because the Secretary of State didn’t want them to.

In 2016, the NH Supreme Court denied my request to make sure the 2.5% of AccuVote-counted ballots invalidated as “over votes” in November 2012 were not the result of fraud (at least three known possibilities). Hiding evidence of fraud and/or significant error in our elections is a “political” decision of the legislature, it decided, to my absolute amazement. The court cited an unenforced law as justification for denying my request, saying “we note that New Hampshire law enables public oversight of the vote counting process… RSA 669:63 requires that vote counting be conducted in public, so that the public may observe the counting process as it occurs.”

My story was diverging further from the “official” government’s version. (Since November 2016 there has been more media attention and the public is more aware that election officials across the country haven’t been telling us the truth or protecting our votes for a long time.) Myth of the Hacker-Proof Voting Machine

Attempts to restore the moderator’s legal duty to conduct public vote counts, repeal the ballot exemption and eliminate MOST over voted ballots failed in the Legislature in 2018. NH courts offer no recourse to review ballots for ANY reason. And yet, we have the constitutional right and responsibility to make sure the foundation of our system of self-government is secure, our votes are counted and reported accurately and results are legitimate.

So, with all the reasons not to go to federal court (time, money I don’t have, aggravation, the possibility of setting a bad legal precedent), I’m considering it. Request of Jaffrey Select Board

Without election transparency and public accountability, there can be no trust in our elections or our government. I feel helpless, yet responsible to all of us, my ancestors and future generations to TRY and move the two different NH election stories closer to each other. I can’t know if a federal court will help.

Deborah Sumner is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Jaffrey. She can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well Informed Electorate is Critical for Democracy

sunshine week logo horiz-300x176

THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 11 – 17), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.  

By Harriet Cady

In 1974 I took a Right to Know suit against the Raymond School Board for going into a non-public about my request.  Later I read RSA 91-A 3,II-c, which clearly stated the elected board could only go into Non public if the person being discussed was given the right to go in or decline a non public session, something they never afforded me.

I filed the petition in court and Judge Good made the decision they had violated the law and ordered a rehearing.  They still refused my request for an IEP for my gifted auditorily impaired son.

That led to appeal after appeal for a program and my ever lasting distrust of the elected officials who were very appreciative when I raised money and helped get the bond issue voted to build a new elementary school, but absolutely wanted nothing to do with anyone who questioned them over their actions as elected officials.  I was later to be told by Dr. Suzanne Horner of Mass Children’s that school officials only like parents who say yes.

This essay is about the right of every citizen to see documents created for their elected officials, appointed boards and committees.  They are only the representatives for the citizens as you could not have a crowd of citizens running a town.

The Founders of this country wrote a Constitution to assure citizens that the government belonged to them.  The First Amendment would mean nothing if we could not see elected officials actions on our behalf.  That’s why the Right to Know law is so important to citizens.

Harriet Cady is a founding member and Treasurer of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Deerfield. She can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County Government can’t recess their obligation to follow the Right To Know Law

sunshine week logo horiz-300x176

By Tom Tardif

When the Belknap County’s Delegation could not achieve a quorum, it recessed the assembly to another date and time to avoid the noticing requirements of RSA 91-A and RSA 24:9-c and 24:9–d which is a violation of RSA 91-A:2 II.

To date, not one of the 10 New Hampshire County Conventions has exercised its right to form a Charter commission.  For one, Belknap County’s Convention has never even adopted Rules of Order, Policy, or a Memorandum of Understanding defining its mission, authorities and activities. Accordingly, in the absence of a County Charter, only New Hampshire Law governs any County.

County government consist of three distinct public bodies:

  • The Convention
  • The Convention’s Executive Committee
  • The Commission

Each is embraced by the Right-to-Know law.  In order for any action to take place by either of these representative body’s, they shall  assemble as a majority or a quorum of the membership.  Also, only “yes” or “no” votes shall be included in the calculation of any majority (RSA 33:7-a).

The chair of the county convention / delegation shall set the time and place for the first meeting of the county convention to be held during the week of the second Wednesday of December of each even-numbered year, a notice of which shall comply with RSA 91-A and RSA 24:9-c and –d.

  • The chairperson of the convention or a majority of the members of the convention may, and the chairperson of the convention upon the written request of the county commissioners shall, call a further meeting or meetings of the county convention (RSA 24:9-c).
  • Officers and Executive Committee, at its first regular meeting, or at any subsequent meeting when necessary, the county convention shall elect a chairperson, vice-chairperson, clerk, and an executive committee (RSA 24:2).
  • The executive committee shall elect its chairperson, vice-chairperson, and clerk. Officers of the county convention may be officers of the executive committee an election that shall be public which shall not be by secret paper ballot (RSA 24:2-a).

Of the three aforecited County governmental bodies, only the Convention is bound by more stringent requirements;  In addition to RSA 91-A:2, II, per RSA 24:9- c “… further meeting or meetings” and RSA 24:9-d “…The clerk of the convention, or his or her designee, shall mail to each member of the convention a notice stating the time, place and purpose of further meetings at least 7 days before the day of the meeting and shall cause to be published a like notice at least 7 days before the day of the meeting in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.”

A quorum or majority thereof, or any legislative body, a governing body, commission, committee, or authority of any county, advisory committee thereto capable of conducting business.  Conversely, the absence a quorum renders an assembly incapable of conducting business. A quorum protects against unrepresentative action in the name of the public body by an unduly small number of members (RSA 91-A:1-a, III). All rights, authority and powers of the county commissioners shall be exercised only by vote of a majority of the county commissioners (RSA 28:1-b).

There should be no dispute that the chairperson of any government body may schedule a meeting.  The applicable laws allows the chairman, with or without a quorum to announce a new meeting date but no law absolves or precludes the requirements for a notice (RSA 91-A:2 or RSA 24:9-d).  What is well established in RSA 91-A:2, II and RSA 24: 9-d the absent a quorum negates any action taken, specifically a recess.

[Art.] 20. [Quorum, What Constitutes.] A majority of the members of the House of Representatives shall be a “quorum” for doing business.  Also, when the newly elected members of the New Hampshire Legislature take their oath of office they also sign an agreement that they will serve on the county convention. RSA 91-A1 -a, III describes a quorum or majority thereof, or any legislative body, a governing body, commission, committee, or authority of any county, advisory committee thereto capable of conducting business.  Conversely, the absence a quorum renders an assembly incapable of conducting business. A quorum protects against unrepresentative action in the name of the public body by an unduly small number of members.

Having cited the above, Belknap County’s Delegation in 2016, ignored all of the above when it could not achieve a quorum, it recesses the assembly to another date and time to avoid the noticing requirements of RSA 91-A and RSA 24:9-c and –d.  The Convention schedule a meeting in Laconia when the State Legislature was in session, which can’t have taken place. The Superior Court found nothing wrong with that process so it has been appealed to the Supreme Court (Thomas A. Tardif v. Belknap County Convention Case 2017-0650).  In addition the commissioners filed a counterclaim which was denied and now has filed a Mandatory appeal with the Supreme Court for cost and fees.

 

 

Tom Tardif is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Laconia. He can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senate to Vote on Bill to Create Ombudsman Tomorrow

sunshine week logo horiz-300x176

The Full Senate will be voting on SB 555 tomorrow.  More Details here.

Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to support SB 555.

SB 555 will establish an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know grievances and reduce the burden and costs for:

  • Citizens
  • Courts
  • Public agencies & bodies

The 13 member study commission unanimously agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman and voted to pass SB 555. The vote was 5-0.

Since there was a Fiscal Note on the Bill requiring an appropriation of $48,000 for the Ombudsman, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday voted the Bill Inexpedient to Legislate.  The vote was split 3-3.

While hiring an ombudsman and establishing a new office is an added expense, there will be considerable savings to offset the costs to the taxpayers.  By avoiding litigation, municipalities and state agencies will often be spared court costs and attorney fees.  For example, in the Superior Court case of Porter v. Town of Sandwich, Porter was awarded over $200,000 in attorney fees and the town had to pay their own legal fees too.  Recently, the town of Tuftonboro paid over $20,000 in legal fees and lost their Right-to-Know lawsuit.

Either way, taxpayers are going to pay for resolving Right to Know violations.  I think $48,000 for an Ombudsman now will yield more than $48,000 in avoided litigation costs later.

Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to support SB 555.

David Saad is the President of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Rumney.  He can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right-to-Know Law changes improve notice requirements

sunshine week logo horiz-300x176

Last year, the legislature passed the following two bills which will improve government transparency in New Hampshire.  These changes to the Right to Know Law went into effect January 1, 2018.

HB460 a bill drafted by RTKNH, states that meeting minutes must now include any objections made to any discussions during a meeting if a member of the public body believes that the discussion is in violation of the Right-to-Know law.  

The objection recorded in the meeting minutes must include the name of the member objecting to the discussion and a description of the violation.  If the violation is not corrected by the board,  the member who stated the objection may continue to participate in the meeting without exposure to possible penalties for the violation.

HB170 states that if a public body maintains an Internet website it shall either post its approved minutes in a consistent and reasonably accessible location on the website or post and maintain a notice on the website stating where the minutes may be found and copies requested. 

Also, If a public body chooses to post meeting notices on the body’s Internet website, it shall do so in a consistent and reasonably accessible location on the website.  If it does not post notices on the website, it shall post and maintain a notice on the website stating where meeting notices are posted.

Right to Know Bills before the House

sunshine week logo horiz-300x176

The following Bills, will be before the House for a vote this Thursday.

HB 1347 – Bill requires meeting minutes to include:

  • Names of the members who made or seconded each motion
  • Brief summary of comments made during deliberations
  • All relevant details necessary to enact or implement the motion

HB 1579 – Bill requires a record of non meetings

  • Collective Bargaining Strategy or Negotiations
    • names of members, persons appearing before the public bodies, meeting places, and beginning and ending dates and times, name of collective bargaining unit discussed
  • Consultation with legal counsel
    • names of members, persons appearing before the public bodies, meeting places, and beginning and ending dates and times, name of legal counsel and how legal counsel participated (i.e. in person, by phone, etc)

HB 1788 – Bill sets copy cost to 10 cents per page

RTKNH supports all 3 bills.

Please contact your legislators and ask them to support these bills.